06 Jul Brussels – The Political Capital of Europe
Welcome to Brussels Belgium
Brussels is Belgium’s quintessential capital city, the centre of European culture and institutions. Famous for its chocolates and beers, unique Art Deco taverns and Flemish art, towering Gothic cathedrals, and quaint guild houses. We particularly love the architecture in Brussels, which spans from interesting Gothic and Baroque elements to minimalist postmodern buildings.
Brussels is also bilingual, where French and Dutch are the official languages. Its location makes it a great base city, especially if you want to stay in one place and explore surrounding towns or countries.
How To Get There
Day Trips From Brussels
Getting Around Brussels
The most convenient way to see the highlights of Brussels is on the Toot Bus, where hopping on and off at your leisure makes it easy to explore. There are options for guided tours; most have multilingual guides who speak English, French, German, Dutch, Russian and Arabic. How about a night stroll around the city and enjoying the creative and atmospheric restaurants and bars? Brussels is a safe place, so walking is a pleasure.
The Brussels Card is worth buying, giving you free admission to over 30 museums and monuments, discounts on guided tours and even discounts at stores, restaurants and bars.
Brussels being relatively small, is quite walkable and has an excellent metro system, so it is possible to see many of the main attractions in one day or over a weekend. Click here for walking tour options.
Below we include the most popular things to do in Brussels for first-time visitors.
Places Of Interest
Cinquantenaire & Triumphal Arch
The Parc du Cinquantenaire brussels is a historic site built in 1880 to mark the 50th anniversary of Belgium’s independence. With the three arches, it is adorned with a bronze quadriga at its summit, offering a stunning panorama of the capital.
A gigantic structure of nine spheres yields a spectacular view of the city. Standing tall in the Heysel area of Brussels, the Atomium houses science exhibitions and a museum. Initially constructed in 1958 for the Brussels World Expo and due to its popularity, it became an iconic landmark for Brussels. At the top of the sphere is a restaurant offering fantastic views of Brussels.
Mini Europe, not far from the Atomium, is a theme park with miniature statutes of Europe’s most famous monuments, sites and scenery. It is great for families travelling with their children to experience a miniature version of Europe, including the most famous Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The mascot of Brussels is the Mannequin Pis – a little boy peeing. A small bronze fountain statue from the 17th century, standing 55cm tall. As legends dictates, this boy saved Brussels by peeing on a burning fuse that would have otherwise led to the city getting blown up!
You will find this extraordinary statue in the narrow alleyways from Grand Place, where the locals celebrate many festivities of this bronze fountain. If you are lucky, you will see him dressed in various costumes; apparently, there are over 700 costumes designed for this little fellow for numerous occasions throughout the year.
As you walk around the city, please keep your eyes open, as there are three statues in total as part of the Mannekin Pis family. They all have something in common; Mannekin Pis, Jeanneke-Pis (his sister) and Zinneke Pis (the urinating dog).
Grand Place (Grote Markt)
Around the corner from the Mannequin Pis, you will be awed by The Grand Palace (Grote Markt), a UNESCO World Heritage Site with architecture from eras of Baroque and Gothic. It is a stunning city centre and has been the home to countless historical events. The main buildings of interest within Grand Place are the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) and The King’s House (Maison du Roi).
Palais de Justice
Belgium’s supreme court of law, with a goliath structure, stands slightly above Brussel’s old town. The Palais de Justice, with a distinctive golden dome and many columns decorating its façade, still serves as the high courts of Brussels and is located near Avenue Louise shopping street in Saint Gilles. Here you will see vast panoramic views of the city below.
Brussels Opera House was originally the site of a coin mint and is officially called Le Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie. In the 18th century, it was one of the most famous theatres in Europe after those in Paris. Today you can still enjoy many plays, operas, concerts, recitals and orchestras for a great night out in Brussels.
Royal Palace of Brussels
The Royal Palace of Brussels is the official palace of the Belgian Royal Family. It pays tribute to royalty and now houses museums and churches, portraying feelings of yesteryear. On the east side are the modern structures of the European Union.
The European Union, together with its administration, has been welcomed to the city since the very beginning, 60 years ago. Here you can catch the multitudes of ‘Eurocrats’ running about their days if you happen to be around during the weekday.
Basiclica of Sacred Heart
Comic Walls & Walking Trails
If you grew up with The Smurfs, Asterix or TinTin, you would be pleased to know Brussels was the birthplace of these famous iconic comics. In honour of these and more, you will find comic strip murals throughout your walk through the city showing off Belgium’s fantastic legacy of comic art. (The TinTin museum is a little outside of Brussels!)
More than 70 works in total adorn the walls of the capital.
Apart from the murals, Brussels has a dedicated Comic Book Museum that you can visit. It’s a bit out of the central area, but worth considering to see how obsessed Brussels is with comic books. Here, be inspired and learn the process of making comics, learn the different genres and explore the in-depth exhibits about Tintin and the Schtroumpfs.
Notre Dame Du Sablon
Brussels has its version of Notre Dame. A church built in Gothic style and a site of pilgrimage since the middle ages, located in the upper town of Brussels in the district of Sablon. Its interior includes two Baroque chapels and a wooden pulpit made in 1697.
Brussels Stock Exchange (Bourse de Bruxelles)
La Bourse de Bruxelles is the former stock exchange building and the centre of Belgium’s financial world for 200 years.
Where To Stay
The city has lots of different types of accommodation. From budget to luxury, the options are all pretty unique.
Airbnb: There are a ton of Airbnbs to rent throughout the city. Airbnb is an excellent option if you’re travelling with a group or want to stay somewhere quiet. Most of the time, hosts will offer you great directions and recommendations for your time in the city.
Meininger Hostel: This is a great budget option in a great location. The hostel offers different room options, from shared mixed dorms to private rooms and a quick walk to the city centre. It is immaculate, has a friendly staff, and has opportunities to be social if you visit solo.
Novotel: Designed and great for families, Novotel is a comfortable place to lay your head during your stay in Brussels. Brussels has multiple Novotel locations, but I prefer the City Centre location!
NH Brussels Louise: This midrange hotel is a refreshingly modern and contemporary place to stay. NH has all the necessities and is about a twenty-minute walk from the Grand Palace.
Hotel Sofitel Brussels: Treat yourself to a luxurious stay at the five-star Hotel Sofitel. Here you will experience contemporary French design and top-notch service.
Where To Eat
Although the Belgian waffle is famous, there is a difference between the Brussels and Liège style as the Brussels style is much thicker and the Liege is sweeter. Many Belgians don’t add much to their waffles and enjoy them primarily plain.
Have some fries (french fries) along with your beer. Many mussels and oysters come from the Belgian coast, so don’t hesitate to order them if you love seafood. You will also want to try stoofvlees if you eat beef.
Chocolate, waffles, fries, and beer. The four main food groups of Brussels! You can find these delicacies all over the city, but here are some of the best.
Chez Leon: This family-owned restaurant opened in 1893 and is the gem of Brussels. For under fifteen euros, you can try the best of traditional Brussels cuisine (the mussels are a must-try).
Peck 47: A cosy café with delicious sweet and savoury options for brunch. Peck 47 is most known for its savoury waffles and steaming hot lattes.
Café Delirium: When it comes to a night out, Café Delirium is the place to be. This multilevel, multi-building bar offers more than three thousand beers. A world record!
Fries: You can’t go to Belgium without getting some fries! The best places to find them are from the stands on the streets. They are all over, and you can’t go wrong with them.
Chocolate: In Brussels, there is a chocolate shop on every corner. Any of them is a good choice, but some stand out.
Mary Chocolatier has a huge selection of delicious chocolates. Check out the Neuhaus Chocolate shop in the Galeries Royales, where the workers will gladly help you pick out exactly what will satisfy your cravings. For something more hands-on, try Le Comptoir de Mathilde, where you can self-serve a bag of goodies.
Maison Dandoy: Speculoos is a type of cinnamon gingerbread cookie and a lesser-known Belgian delicacy. The best come from the bakery Maison Dandoy. You can also have some delicious, traditional waffles here!
Glacier Pascalino: Belgian waffles are the real deal. The traditional way to eat them is plain, but if you feel like getting fancy, you can choose from various toppings. The best waffles in Brussels come from a little yellow truck that drives around the city called Glacier Pascalino. If you can’t catch the car, any of the stands throughout the city are a good choice too.
Brussels is rich in history, architecture, culture, and much more! A bustling city with many hidden gems to discover and warm, friendly people with hearts as big as this vibrant city.
Some links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive a commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions are my own.